There’s no substitute for seeing how the light hits the sculpted lines of a dream car in-person for the first time, experiencing the choreography of a powertrain firsthand, or hearing an exhaust note that hasn’t been filtered through an iPhone mic and isn’t competing with a trap beat or a content creator reading a spec sheet. One thing I’ve had to accept as an auto enthusiast and journalist is that my perception is almost always challenged by the reality of these living sculptures when experienced in-the-metal. It’s become part of the allure of being a car enthusiast for me. When you see these machines rolling around town, ripping up a track in anger, or sitting pretty in parking lots and upon manicured golf course greens at car shows for the first time, it’s usually a perception-shifting moment. To truly understand how these things move, sound, and feel to drive (if you’re lucky) is something you just can’t get through a screen – even with the best simulator rig money can buy. This is why accurately capturing how overwhelming Monterey Car Week is for an auto enthusiast is such a herculean task.
Even before you reach the major auction house previews, historic racing reunion events at Laguna Seca, or halo shows like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the Quail – the most prestigious car shows on the planet – Car Week constantly confronts you with mythical machines that you never expected to see outside of the glossy pages of a calendar or a YouTube clip. You’ll casually walk past street-parked Ferrari 250 GT California Spyders on your way to get a cup of coffee. You’ll be serenaded in traffic by the burbling engine of the DeTomaso P-72 concept. They’re everywhere; the streets are so choked with works of automotive art that the rare cars which you might follow for an extra mile or two on a normal day back home start to look like Honda Civics.
For myself and the C + T crew, the experiences and scenes from this year’s Monterey Car Week were so far beyond our expectations that it feels like we’re still processing a lot of it. And It all started with a text from our friends at Hagerty:
“Hey, do you want to drive a Lotus to Car Week from LA?”
Hagerty was planning on taking a pack of Lotus Evora GTs up to Car Week from Los Angeles as part of their partnership with the Radford Racing School and Radford Motors – the recently revitalized iconic British coachbuilding firm that’s now helmed by 2009 Formula One World Champion Jenson Button, English racer and television presenter Ant Antstead, and businessman Roger Behle. Radford Motors’ first new release is the absolutely stunning Type 62-2, which is based on the Lotus Evora platform and was to be featured at several events during Car Week. Having worked with Hagerty as a panelist for events that had a crossover between watch collecting and the auto enthusiast space, our CEO, Cam Barr, was asked if he’d be interested in co-driving one of the Evoras to Car Week and having C + T participate in the week’s events – including a track day event at Laguna Seca. That’s not something you say “no” to.
A few weeks later, we found ourselves at the Petersen Museum on a Monday morning, lining up with the other Evora drivers and helping a flatbed driver bolt the Type 62-2’s chin spoiler back on before it hit the road towards Monterey. Before leaving, we were treated to a private tour of the Petersen’s Vault collection (which Hagerty sponsors).
Considering what the week ahead had in-store for us, touring the Petersen’s Vault on day one felt a little like having a death row meal as an appetizer. The Petersen’s basement currently houses everything from Steve McQueen’s famed 1956 Jaguar XKSS, to a ‘90s Cadillac “popemobile,” to the actual Ferrari 308 GTS hero car that was used to film Magnum P.I. However, the big show downstairs for me was a collection of race-winning Formula One cars that spanned the modern era. For an F1 superfan, standing in the same room as a Williams 1993 FW15D that was driven by Artyon Senna, a 2013 Ferrari F138 that had been driven by Fernando Alonso, and both the 2005 and 2010 McLaren challengers – driven by Kimi Raikonnen and Lewis Hamilton respectively – was sublime beyond words. I could’ve stood amongst that flock of cars – all formerly driven by world champions – for hours. Alas, we had miles ahead of us to clear and a schedule to keep, and the caravan of Lotuses and assorted chase vehicles hit the road shortly after the tour.
Myself and our photographer for the trip, Cooper Naitove, followed the pack of Evoras in Cam’s hot-rodded 1975 Porsche 911S, which should be well known to longtime C + T Journal readers by the name “Jolene.” Is a ‘70s Porsche with a full-blown racing engine the best chase vehicle for photos and video? Probably not. But we sure had a good time driving her!
The Lotus convoy included Ant Anstead himself and his partner (she’s a famous actor from Texas), legendary hot-rod builder and designer Chip Foose and the immensely affable Chris Jacobs (both of Overhaulin’ fame), television personality and auto enthusiast Cristy Lee of HGTV’s Steal This House, Brian Jannusch of Toprank Vehicle Importers (one of the first-call JDM sports car importers in the country), and chief instructor at the Radford School, Danny Bullock, as well as some of Hagerty’s crew.
After the tour ended, the colorful pack of Lotuses headed up I-5 out of LA towards the Firestone Walker Brewery in Paso Robles, with Cooper and I chasing in Jolene. While the first leg of the trip took us through the 5’s desolate scenery, the post-lunch stint put us on the astonishingly beautiful stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway that runs between Paso Robles and Carmel.
When we hit the 101’s famously curvy cliffside roads, the air cooled and the scenery oscillated between sunny canyon scenes and misty mountains that had a cloud-like fog blasting up towards the sky from the cliff faces below. As we traced the Pacific Ocean, it felt like driving through a dream sequence or like we’d driven into a stock background photo on a new MacBook. The drive and the scenery were simply breathtaking, and as we got a bit closer to Monterey, the harbinger of Car Week came in the shape of a Koenigsegg CCX, which was stalking cars up the road behind us.
We stopped for a photo op around 20 minutes outside of Carmel at a scenic lookout next to the ocean, and as the Lotuses were moved into formation, Chip Foose took a moment to commune with nature. The photographers broke out drones and took glamor shots of the cars, which looked fabulous backed up to the ocean under the afternoon sun, and some of the crew live streamed the view for their social media followers. However, Chip was found crouched down and earning the trust of a squirrel by hand-feeding it potato chips. It was incredibly endearing to witness and a timely reminder that there’s so much more to this shit than just getting the shot. You’ve got to take it all in sometimes.
As we steamed into Carmel, we started clocking wildly rare cars rolling through the dense fog almost immediately. We had certainly arrived and day one was in the books.
The next day, we took Jolene and a lovely 1984 911 Targa that Cam keeps in Carmel (a “paint to sample” car) to Laguna Seca to participate in a track event that had been put together by Hagerty. The WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, as it’s known professionally, is an important and challenging circuit that’s been the battleground for a vast range of different racing categories since being built in the late ‘50s. IMSA, IndyCar, bikes – hell, it almost hosted an F1 race in 1989! Its most famous feature is the “Corkscrew,” a quick ascending left into a plunging right that throws you back into a sweeping left; it’s like a rollercoaster in the middle of a lap. It’s challenging to hit the Corkscrew right, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun just to hit it at all.
When we arrived, we were greeted not just by the pack of Lotus Evora GTs, but an eclectic group of idling cars that included Porsches from every category and vintage, old Ferraris and Italian obscurities, the odd bantamweight British roadster, and even some examples of classic American muscle. The first half of the day was a run-what-you-brung series of “parade laps,” which meant no racing and a speed limit was observed. However, the turns and dynamic grades of the track made it feel like you were moving a hell of a lot faster than you really were on street tires.
A track official gave the crowd of drivers a rundown of the day’s format and explained how we’d run the laps in waves. We were told decorated Porsche factory driver/24 Hours of Le Mans winner/Luftgekühlt creator, Patrick Long, was on his way over to drive the pace car for the parade laps, but had gotten a flat en route and might need to borrow a car. Jolene was immediately offered as tribute, however, Long rolled up shortly after in a RUF CTR Yellowbird – a comically rare and storied Porsche 911-based beast that holds the distinction of being the fastest production car in the world in 1987.
Long gave a quick pep talk on how to approach the Corkscrew, explained how we needed to aim for the cone where an oak tree used to be, impressed upon us the need to be smart about not hitting it too fast, and we were off. Cameron did a round of laps in the Evora GT, which he said handled brilliantly, but was a little too modern feeling for his tastes, and then switched to Jolene for the second wave. I did my first series of laps in the ‘84 Targa, which was not a bad way to get a feel for the circuit, but also decidedly not a car that wanted to be on a race track. While the Targa kept up, my second wave of laps were done behind the wheel of Jolene, a car I’ve put quite a few miles on at this point in my tenure with Craft + Tailored, and a car that desperately wants to be pushed in a track setting.
Ripping up the sweeping turns and fast straights of Laguna Seca in Jolene was a revelation. This is exactly where that car wants to be, and that was exactly what she was meant to be doing. This is where all of that extra power and tuning feels right. Opening up Jolene’s 3.45L twin-plug flat six and hearing her bark through the gears was an absolute thrill, and by the last laps, I felt like I was one with the car and one with my love of racing. And while it can be easy to assume you’ve got the hang of something just because you’re progressing in-the-moment, a truly gifted pro can sort out assumptions without breaking a sweat. I’d find that out after lunch.
We returned to the track later that day for the “hot laps” portion of the event, during which professional drivers (including Long and F1 World Champion/Radford Motors partner Jenson Button) took people on a series of “full send” laps around the circuit. Long was driving a gutted and race-prepped 1982 911SC and Button was taking some lucky fans around the circuit in the slick, metallic oxblood Radford 62-2. The C + T team made an effort to each slide into the passenger seat with Long before the crowd.
To experience the car control and the dynamic skills Long had developed to the point of instinct was incredible. As a Southern California kid, Long grew up racing at Laguna Seca and considers it his home track; he knows it incredibly well and it showed in how he knew exactly how much curb he could take without losing the 911’s rear, and in knowing exactly which line to take to get the maximum out of that car and those turns. I only wish I could’ve had another shot in Jolene right after, but the experience was simply beyond compare. It’s so rare to see a true pro do their thing from that vantage point – to be a literal passenger with someone that’s successfully campaigned some of the most important races on the planet. They were honestly the passenger laps of a lifetime.
After the hot laps masterclass, we retreated to the paddock to take in the otherworldly group of decade-spanning Le Mans cars that was being assembled for the week’s events. We stood amongst a group of cars that were all built for one purpose: To win. From the pair of Ferrari 250 GTOs that sat side-by-side, to the Porsche Gmund, to the absurd prototypes of the ‘90s like the Mazda 787B, these cars are all a testament to obsession. And they’re all beautiful. Even the ugly ones.
We ended the night with a big dinner at the historic Mission Ranch restaurant, which Clint Eastwood restored and preserved once upon a time. When we pulled in, we were again reminded of what week it was by a blue Ferrari Dino, which had been parked under a willow with its top off on a damp night; can’t win ‘em all, I guess. We drove the pair of newly track-christened 911s around Carmel By the Sea after dinner, taking in the sights and stopping to poke around the Port Pinos Lighthouse, which beckoned from the foliage and fog like some sci-fi beacon – a surreal end to a surreal day.
Photos: Cooper Naitove – @mrjuicebox on Instagram
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